Videographers, Butchers and Talent

I’ve worked on a fair number of video projects over the past few years. I always enjoy watching really talented people perform their craft and tend to ask questions when I notice a particular way a craftsman works.

One video project was a short biography of a customer. I’d written a basic script outlining the points we needed to make about both the customer’s story as well as the brand and product. As with many videos, we shot the footage out of order—the chronological sequence that would ultimately become the promotional film didn’t match our schedule of shooting.

After shooting for about half a day, I remember the main videographer/director stopping in what seemed like the middle of a testimonial section and saying, “That’s it. We’re good. We can start packing up.”

Naturally, I asked, “are you sure you’ve got enough to put together the story and brand components.”

He replied, “Yes. I’m positive.” I’m naturally inquisitive, so I inquired, “Out of curiosity, how can you be positive? How do you know so quickly?”

His response has always stuck with me:

I’ve done this a whole lot. It’s kind of like being chef. When you’ve cooked enough dishes enough times, you know the exact ingredients you need to get what you want.”

I definitely believe there’s natural talent, but more than talent, I think putting in the time to get good is what makes the most difference.

Merlin Mann has a great anecdote about this. I’ll paraphrase, but the original video is worth watching1.

It’s like a young butcher starts working in a butcher shop and a customer asks for 2.5 pounds of meat. The young butcher watches an older, experienced butcher shave a pile of meat and say, “There you go. That’s 2.5 pounds.”

The young butcher has trouble believing he can be that exact, so he weighs it and the meat is exactly 2.5 pounds. He asks the old butcher, “how did you know it was the exact right weight?” to which the reply is, “I’m not sure. I just do.”

The young gun isn’t satisfied with that answer. He wants to know the secret. So he says to the old butcher, “Come on, old butcher. What’s your trick?”

The old butcher responds, “You know what the trick is? Be a butcher for 40 years.”

Expertise isn’t a trick. Most of the time, it’s time.

1. You can watch the entire Merlin Mann video on his website.

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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